Against the Dark
The fire was burning low as the night drew close to morning. After all the excitement of the day, the feasting and the speeches, not to mention the unexpected show of approbation from Mahal himself, the dwarves of Erebor had mostly gone to their beds. The dwarves of the Company and their friends had all now done so.
All but two.
‘You are not tired after so long a day?’ Thranduil asked Thorin as they sat together, wine glasses before them. ‘It was certainly hectic.’
‘For a dwarven celebration that was positively tame,’ Thorin told him with a slight smile. ‘Shorter, at least. The celebrations when Fíli was born lasted nearly three days, despite the straitened circumstances we were in.’
‘Your people were glad to have an heir to the throne,’ Thranduil said after a moment, clearly untangling a mental knot. ‘After Nanuhirion.’
‘Yes,’ Thorin agreed very quietly, ‘after Azanulbizar. It is one of the few times I have ever known Dís truly nervous. She was more careful when carrying the boys than she had ever been before or has been since. It was unfair, truly, to have the fate of our Line resting upon her, but it could not be helped.’
Thranduil said nothing, looking closely at Thorin, trying to ascertain the dwarf’s mood. They were better friends now, he and Thorin, than Thranduil had ever thought they would be. It was still a young friendship, though. Some questions might cut too close, some answers be too private. In the end, he decided that there would likely not be a better time for many years. It was not often that a king could be alone. Two kings stood even less chance.
‘Then why not marry?’ he asked Thorin softly, the words sounding cautious even to his own ears. ‘It would have doubled your chances.’
‘It would,’ Thorin acknowledged. ‘It is not our way though, to marry for such reasons. We have but one, our stories tell us. One other dwarf meant for us, created from the same stone that we were. Mahal puts us on the earth to find one another and, if we do, we know, without doubt. If we do not then we give our lives to other things. Other duties.’
‘You have not?’
‘No, not so far. Nor do I ever expect to. Much was lost when Smaug came. Even more at Azanulbizar,’ Thorin looked straight at Thranduil then, eyes sad and seeming slightly lost himself. Thranduil felt a harsh pang of grief at the recognition that struck him. He knew that look, that emotion, better than he would like. He closed his own eyes for a moment to try and ease the guilt that flooded through him.
‘It should not make my actions worse, I know,’ Thranduil said to Thorin, able to hear the slight break in his own voice. ‘They were people in pain and need and I should never have denied them aid,’ now he looked at Thorin himself, ‘but Thorin, I am so sorry.’
‘I know,’ Thorin responded, still sad and also a little angry. ‘Perhaps it is best that you know. Best that you understand why I, why we, may never be able to truly forgive what happened, even when it seems as if we should.’
Thranduil nodded, assailed yet again by that feeling of a guilt so strong it seemed it should drive him to his knees. What had he done out of pride? Had his been a lesser crime than Thror’s? He had thought so for years. Had deafened himself to Legolas and Tauriel and the others who had argued with him that day. Had thought so, until a grey-haired dwarf with that same pain in his eyes had tried to strangle him in his own throne room. Now it echoed relentlessly in his head – what had he done?
‘We have all made mistakes that cost us much,’ Thorin tried to reassure, apparently having guessed something of Thranduil’s thoughts and willing to try and ease Thranduil’s pain. ‘Or mistakes that have cost others even more. You saved many lives when you fought beside us at Erebor. You would have saved many by taking the Men in had Smaug left the Mountain. That counts for much, Thranduil.’
‘So I hope,’ Thranduil answered, his voice tinged with that same desperate hope. ‘For if it does not then my time after Middle Earth ends might be painful indeed.’
‘You believe that there will be punishment?’ Thorin asked him with surprise.
‘Perhaps,’ Thranduil responded, trying to regain control of his emotions. ‘I believe that there are crimes that go unpunished in life that should not. I cannot see that Eru would allow them to be entirely without consequence.’
‘Then I, too, hope that recompense made will balance our account,’ Thorin informed him seriously. ‘Or I might well have more to fear than you will.’
‘You seem to have done very well as far as I can see, Thorin,’ Thranduil told him with some confusion.
‘I have not always done so,’ Thorin murmured in response, now gazing unseeing into the fire. Thranduil caught a hint, the briefest flash, of something momentous behind that statement. Something that had changed the fate of many. Then it was gone, possibly forever. Thranduil had never been skilled at the sight that served Galadriel and Elrond so well. In years gone by it had been a bitter thought. He tried not to let it be so now.
‘Then I hope for your sake, mellon, that my theory is nothing more than that,’ Thranduil offered when Thorin’s mind returned to the room once more, ‘and I must apologise for managing to bring sadness to what ought to be a joyful occasion.’
‘It is no fault of yours,’ Thorin assured him, that slight smile returning. ‘For me there are always memories in Erebor. Many are happy and others are not. Such is the way of things.’
‘So it is,’ Thranduil concurred wryly. ‘With time, if we are fortunate, the joyful will outweigh the sad.’
‘Will you allow me a question of my own?’ Thorin queried then. Thranduil examined his friend closely but could gain little from the scrutiny. For one who often wore his heart upon his sleeve, Thorin could be hard to read at times.
‘Of course,’ Thranduil found himself saying regardless. ‘It is only fair.’
‘You will remain long after my Company and I are all gone,’ Thorin said. It would have been a blunt statement had he not taken such care in the saying. ‘As will Legolas. Why allow us in, when it can only lead to grief in the end? We might have been nothing more than cordial allies had you not chosen to lower your guard.’
It was a question Thranduil had been asked before, not so very long ago at all, by his own son. Legolas had been confused by the sudden change in his father, who had never appeared to give much thought to any people save his own and had certainly not considered a member of another race a friend in a very long time. Thranduil weighed his response and, in the end, gave the same answer now as he had then.
‘I have guarded myself for many, many years for exactly that reason,’ he stated, voice still soft and unwilling to break the silence any more than necessary. ‘I have watched it happen to so many of my kin in days gone by and there have been men, and even once a dwarf, who I have grieved long over. I decided the price was too high and so I withdrew inside my kingdom and resolved to risk nothing at all.’ Thranduil paused here; too long a pause, it seemed, for Thorin felt the need to prompt him.
‘What changed?’ Thorin asked, still ever so careful.
‘I saw a dwarf save my son,’ Thranduil answered honestly, ‘and knew that without him I would have remained entirely alone. That was enough to convince me that you had earned a certain amount of… frankness, I suppose. The right to see my family as it is, rather than as we present ourselves to outsiders. Legolas clearly agreed, or else all you would ever have seen was the oh-so-proper Prince of Mirkwood. After that, though… well, after that I received a very sharp reminder of a fact I should not have lost sight of, from a pair of girls a tiny fraction of my own age.’ He paused again here, but not for so long this time.
‘I will never leave these shores, Thorin. I may, in truth, eventually be the only one of my kind left in Middle Earth. If I do not wish to live and die alone, I will need the other races of Middle Earth. And I will need memories. Good ones, to hold tight to and set against the bad and the loneliness.’
Thorin nodded slowly, thinking this through for a long time, as Thranduil had earlier contemplated his own words.
‘A light against the dark,’ Thorin said, not quite a question but not a statement of fact either.
‘Yes,’ Thranduil answered. ‘My own starlight, perhaps, for the days when the sun is gone. I cannot believe that Legolas will remain in Middle Earth eternally. I have hoarded my memories of him for years, as I hoarded my memories of my wife,’ he laughed almost silently, face creasing as he took on a rueful expression, ‘like a dragon with his treasure. I would rather have those memories than nothing at all.’
Thorin was silent then, as Thranduil himself was. He raised his cup to his lips and drank the rest in one swallow, waiting to see what Thorin would say.
‘Then we will have to make as many as we can,’ was Thorin’s reply in the end. ‘Enough to last even your lifetime.’
When he caught Thranduil’s gaze, Thorin’s own was certain, steady, in a way that Thranduil found comforting despite the difference in their ages. He realised that he felt better for having told Thorin this. For having released some of the fear of being alone that had plagued him since his wife had sailed.
Even if it meant he would one day grieve once more for friends lost, Thranduil would not regret the changes Thorin Oakenshield had brought with him. Instead, he would be grateful for fate and for what fate had wrought. For his kingdom and for himself.